Travel Tidbits from Airports Near You

Airlines Fined for Not Giving Refunds on Time

On Monday, the Transportation Department fined a half-dozen airlines more than $7 million for failing to provide timely refunds to customers.

The DOT said the six airlines have also now collectively paid more than half a billion dollars to people who were owed a refund due to a canceled or significantly changed flight.

Frontier Airlines is the only U.S. airline on the list. And it got the biggest fine: $2.2 million. According to the DOT, the airline has issued $222 million in refunds.

Here’s a list of the other airlines fined and the amount of refunds they are required to pay:

The fines assessed and the required refunds provided are: 

  • Air India – $121.5 million in required refunds paid and a $1.4 million penalty 
  • TAP Portugal – $126.5 million in required refunds paid and a $1.1 million penalty 
  • Aeromexico – $13.6 million in required refunds paid and a $900,000 penalty 
  • El Al – $61.9 million in required refunds paid and a $900,000 penalty 
  • Avianca – $76.8 million in required refunds paid and a $750,000 penalty 

You Can Now Take the Metro to Dulles International Airport

With the opening of the long-awaited Silver Line Metrorail station at Dulles International Airport (IAD) on Tuesday, travelers and airport employees can now take the train directly to Dulles from downtown Washington, D.C.

The new station at Dulles is connected to the main terminal by an indoor pedestrian tunnel with moving sidewalks. Transit time from Metro Center in downtown D.C. is estimated at 53 minutes. And, depending on when you ride and where you access Metrorail, the fare will be between $2 and $6. Trains will leave the Dulles Silver Line station about every 15 minutes.

Courtesy Mamava

Mamava Lactation Pod Doubles as Art Gallery

You’ve probably noticed Mamava lactation pods popping up at airports.

Now one of these pods has been installed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Located under the lobby escalators on the Museum’s ground floor, the free-to-use pod not only provides a private, comfortable space for parents to pump or breastfeed, this one doubles as a gallery space.

Courtesy Mamava

The interior of the pod features reproductions of artworks by noted artist Betye Saar, including Anticipation (1961), which depicts the artist pregnant with her third child, In the Sunflower Patch (1963), and Flight (1963), depicting the early years of her daughter’s life. There’s also a quote by Saar in the pod, in which she reflects on motherhood, birthing, and her printmaking practice. 

Great idea, right? Maybe airports will add art to their Mamava lactation pods too.

In addition to museums and airports, Mamava now has lactation pods in train stations, corporate offices, schools, hospitals, military bases, retail, universities, sports stadiums, and zoos. You can locate them with a free locator app.

JetBlue inks deal to buy Spirit Airlines

Big news in the airline world. JetBlue is buying Spirit Airlines. Price tag: $3.8 billion.

Read these stories to learn more.

Not loving the airlines right now? J.D. Power says you’re not alone

We may be flying again, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy with the service airlines are providing.

In fact, according to J.D. Power’s 2022 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, overall passenger satisfaction with airlines is down due to higher costs, pandemic-era restrictions, and a host of other factors.

“Customer satisfaction with North American airlines climbed to unprecedented highs for all of the wrong reasons during the past two years,” Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power said in the report’s release statement. “Fewer passengers meant more space on airplanes, less waiting in line, and more attention from flight attendants. But that business model was simply not sustainable.”

Now, Taylor says, volumes are surging, some pandemic-era constraints are still in place, and passenger satisfaction declined in all three study segments—first/business, premium economy, and economy/basic economy.

The charts below show how passengers ranked North American carriers by segment, using eight measurement factors: aircraft; baggage; boarding; check-in; cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; and reservation.

The overall score was 798 – on a 1,000-point scale – which is down more than 20 points from a year ago.

You’ll see that JetBlue and Alaska Airlines topped the rankings in the First/Business segment; JetBlue and Delta Air Lines finished first in the Premium Economy sector; and that Southwest and JetBlue led in the economy segment.

An auction of airline seats & drink carts – for Ukraine

Austrian Airlines is auctioning off Economy Class airplane seats from its Boeing 767 fleet and 170 flight trolleys and donating the proceeds to the nonprofit Nachbar in Not (Neighbor in Need) to support people in Ukraine.

The seats saw service on transatlantic flights and were removed to make way for Premium Economy Class seats. The starting price for the double and triple rows varies between $250 and $380.

Austrian Airlines says that, like the seats, the drink trolleys (starting auction price $52) have “seen the world” and are now waiting for new purposes as, perhaps, “a nice piece of furniture, home bar trolleys, or sturdy toolboxes.”

“As the red-white-red flag-carrier, which has been connecting Austria with Europe and the world for more than 60 years, we are very pleased to share a piece of aviation history – and thereby help people in need,” said Austrian Airlines CCO Michael Trestl in a statement. “With this charity project, we want to make at least a small contribution to ease the suffering of the Ukrainian people.”

Bidding open now

Bidding on the auction items is open now, with the final acceptance of bids (notification to bid ‘winners’) on May 21.

You can see the seats and drink trolleys being auctioned online or in-person in Austria, where you’ll also need to go to pick your auction items.

“We thank Austrian Airlines and AURENA [the auction house} for this charitable project for the benefit of Nachbar in Not,” said Martina Schloffer, Dep. Head of International Cooperation at Austrian Red Cross. “Millions of people are currently suffering and depend on humanitarian aid. The donations will allow us to
facilitate needs-based assistance, like water, food supplies, hygiene products or medicines.”

Travel subscriptions for flights, hotels, cars

Paying for travel month after month

[This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News online]

There are subscriptions for just about everything these days, including streaming services, pet toys, meal plans, even crime-solving kits, and every year there are millions more people willing to pay for them.

According to an international survey by Zuora Subscribed Institute, 78 percent of U.S. adults paid for subscription services last year. The financial services firm UBS predicts the subscription business will continue to grow by 18 percent a year, to $1.5 trillion by 2025.

The travel industry has stayed on the sidelines for much of the subscription boom. But that’s changing. Airlines, rental car companies, and a growing number of hotels and resorts are introducing or expanding their subscription plans to attract the work-from-anywhere workforce and the growing number of leisure travelers who want to go to more places and stay longer.

The industry is “jumping on the subscription bandwagon because it locks in customers and increases profits,” said trends expert Daniel Levin of the Avant-Guide Institute, a travel and trends consulting company. For the right travelers, subscriptions can offer “the one-two punch of lower prices and greater convenience.”

But subscription deals also come with restrictions and fees that can make them costly if travelers’ circumstances change.

Subscribe and Fly

In 2009 and 2010 JetBlue offered the All You Can Jet pass, which gave pass holders unlimited flights for a month.

For very frequent travelers, American Airlines currently offers AirPass, a twist on the $ 250,00-lifetime unlimited travel pass sold in the early 1980s.

Now, for a $10,000 to $30,000 upfront payment, flyers can lock in access to fixed-rate fares on American Airlines and several partners and get enhanced travel flexibility and lots of VIP amenities, including lounge access, upgrades, and other perks. Customers that renew their membership each year may roll over unused funds. Those that don’t, lose them.

In February, Alaska Airlines launched a new subscription program.

For a fixed monthly rate of $49 to $550 and a yearlong commitment, Flight Plan subscribers can take up to 24 round trips, depending on the plan, among 16 airports in California, Nevada, and Arizona, including Los Angeles, Reno, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

One of those subscribers is Eli Cohen, a qigong instructor who splits his time between San Francisco and Palm Springs, California. He is well-acquainted with the way ticket prices can swing up and down on that route. When the cost of a round trip soared to $400 last month, he decided to subscribe. Now, “instead of $400 for one round-trip flight, I’ll pay $600 and get six flights for the year,” he said. “And I’m also looking at flying for vacation to Los Angeles and San Diego.”

Alaska won’t disclose sign-up numbers, but “we are tracking just ahead of our full-year projections,” said Alex Corey, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of business development and products. He also said 1 of 3 new subscribers hadn’t flown Alaska in at least three years and that most have committed to more flights than they had taken with the airline at any time in the past.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research, said, “There has never been a more compelling time for airlines to consider developing subscription products than now.”

He adds, “The travel business is like the soda business. The only way for brands to grow their market share is by stealing customers from their competitors. And fewer travelers view themselves as loyal to airlines and hotel brands than in 2019.”

Smaller airlines, including Volaris, a Mexico-based low-cost carrier, and FlySafair, a low-cost South African airline also offer subscription plans, and several other airlines in South America and Europe are expected to announce plans soon, said Iñaki Uriz, the CEO of Caravelo, a subscription platform for the airline industry.

“Before the pandemic, airlines were in their comfort zone and felt they had everything under control,” he said. Now, with the big drop-off in business travel and the rise of remote work, “airlines are much more willing to risk change, evolve and innovate.”

Subscribe and Stay

Hotel operators and other lodging companies are also embracing the subscription model to build relationships with 20- and 30-something travelers, who intend to blur the line between work and travel and are comfortable with monthly fees.

Selina, for instance, is an upscale hostel network based in Panama geared toward remote workers and what it calls “digital nomads.” The company has more than 90 properties in 18 countries, including the U.S., Brazil, and Costa Rica. Its CoLive subscription package starts at $450 a month for dormitory-style accommodations with shared bathrooms, communal kitchens, and common workspaces. Private rooms can run $3,000 a month or more, depending on the location. Subscribers can stay up to 30 days in one location or switch locations up to three times during the month.

The Dutch boutique hotel chain citizenM, known for its hip and high-tech design, is about to roll out a retooled and renamed version of a subscription plan it launched during the pandemic when travel was in deep trouble. For Ernest Lee, the chain’s chief growth officer, that was the point.

Before the pandemic, “we were never in the right position to risk our existing business because market conditions were quite stable,” he said. “But once your occupancy goes down to single digits, you are emboldened to try new ideas.”

One of those ideas was Global Passport, which cost $1,500 a month, for up to 29 consecutive nights at its properties in Europe, the U.S., and Asia. The plan was discontinued as the new one was being developed.

Subscription travel also comes in luxury versions. Inspirato is one of the industry’s biggest luxury travel membership companies. Its Inspirato Pass includes access to vacation homes and luxury hotels around the world, as well as experiences and travel planning. There is a $2,500 enrollment fee, a monthly fee of $2,500, and no minimum commitment. There are certain rules around booking stays, and two weeks is the maximum for one location.

Kathryn Wong, who travels frequently with her husband, said they were thinking about buying a vacation home. They signed up for Inspirato, instead. “I tracked all our Inspirato trips last year and compared our $30,000 in dues to the [prices] the actual resorts display for each trip,” she said. The value of the trips turned out to be more than twice the costs of the membership, “and we saved time in not having to do research and trip planning.”

Subscribe and Drive

If any part of the travel industry has been hit hard by the huge fall-off in business travel, it’s the rental car business, which relied heavily on corporate accounts.

The industry is just “dipping a toe in the water” with subscription programs, said Mike Taylor, the practice lead for travel intelligence at J.D. Power. Enterprise and Hertz have plans in which renters pay a set monthly fee, without a long-term commitment, and have the option to switch cars multiple times each month.

Enterprise’s plan costs $1,499 a month, with a two-month minimum and a $250 enrollment fee. The plan is available only in Minnesota, Missouri, and Nevada. Insurance is included, and drivers can swap out vehicles four times a month.

Hertz also has a two-month minimum, and it costs about the same at the high end, but it has a wider range of programs than Enterprise, one of them as low as $599 a month. At the moment, the plan is full because of supply chain issues, and the same shortage of rental cars that some travelers may remember drove prices into the stratosphere last year.

Taylor said he expects more car rental companies to come around to subscriptions. Younger generations are comfortable with the subscription model, he said. “And they are also the higher-margin renters.”